Double Header

Last month I began scheming with Team CF rider Cheryl Reccia Sornson a.k.a. “Churtle” to try and pull off a ridiculous double header racing weekend. We both wanted to participate in the Cohutta 100, the opener for the 2011 NUE Series. Unfortunately, this was the same weekend of the Michaux Maximus, the first of three 2011 races that make up the Michaux Ultra Endurance Series.

With the Cohutta on Saturday and Maximus on Sunday, it was a little crazy but possible to do both races. There remained the small logistical problem of the 600 miles separating the two venues and the small physical problem of how very tired legs were going to ride 40 miles in Michaux with 100 miles of racing in them from the day before. Fortunately, Cheryl’s husband Lee volunteered to help with the driving. We chose to ignore the leg problem. A plan was hatched.

These two races couldn’t be more different. Cohutta is basically a 75 mile gravel road race with 22 miles of fairly buff single track thrown in… Oh and 12,000 feet of climbing. Michaux is 40 miles where 90% is rocky single track with rock ridges and feature riding like a snowboard terrain park. It’s the type of place that changes your perception of what mountain biking really is.

We arrived in Ducktown, Tennessee at the venue for the Cohutta on Friday in time to do a pre-ride of the first hour of single track. Cheryl, Lee and I met 2010 NUE champion Jeff Schalk and 2009 Cohutta 3rd place finisher and Team CF rider Chris the rock star Beck in the parking lot when new 29er Crew member Dustin Manotti and fellow Masters rider Doug Andrews decided to join us. What is a warmup ride for Chris and Jeff, generally turns into interval training for me, so I bowed out after about 45 minutes. I pulled off and let Doug, who had been on my wheel, by and he seemed happy to continue the chase of the super-heros. Note to self: if he could keep that up for 100 miles, he was going to be tough.

Bang! The gun goes off at 7am. We ride on the road for about 3 miles gaining roughly 800 feet before turning into tight single track where passing is next to impossible to do safely. The pace from the lead group seemed higher this year, but fortunately I was able to get into the single track roughly in the top-15, just ahead of the two woman’s favorites Cheryl and Amanda Carey and the first turn crash that held them up.

After exiting the opening single track, we begin a fairly long single track climb out of the stream bed of the Ocoee River south toward North Georgia and the Cohutta National Wildlife area where the bulk of the racing takes place. Remarkably there is no one behind me in sight. I finally take the opportunity to try and settle down and take a drink from my bottle. In doing so, I realize that both of my bottle cages have rattled loose and are flopping around. I have to make a quick stop, fish out the multi-tool and tighten the bolts. As I’m getting started again, 2010 NUE Single Speed champion and Salsa Factory Rider Gerry Pflug and 2010 NUE Series 3rd place single speed finisher and Freeze-Thaw rider Matt Ferrari pass me like the finish line is right around the corner.

I have to stop again when I realize I can’t shift into my big ring. The limit screw needed to be backed out. While I’m on the side of the trail Amanda passes me with Churtle only 30 seconds behind. They are in a battle!

As I get back on my bike, I’m quickly joined by Doug riding with a small group of riders including two strong guys from the Motormile racing team: Brad Cobb and Paul Van Kooten. Someone asked out loud How old is everybody?  Paul, it turns out, was racing Masters.

There’s a fairly substantial climb leading up to aid two. I hit the gas a bit up that climb to test the group I’m in. Soon it seems like I’ve got a little gap with the two motormile guys and the rest dangling off the back. I stop at aid two to switch my bottles and again adjust the limit screw of my front derailleur. As I’m getting started Doug and someone else blows through aid 2 without stopping.

The tough part of the course is the 22 miles or so of climbing between aid2 and aid3. I’m in a group that’s too big and I want some separation. I’m on the gas working in a group that’s taking turns at the front. We catch fellow 29er crew teammate Lee Hauber from Kentucky. He joins our group.

At about mile 40 I dropped my chain shifting into the small chain ring. I have to get off to fix it. The chain drop had turned into a bad chain suck. I extracted the chain and started chasing the group that was now several hundred feet ahead. As I would discover later the chain actually got bent. One of the links was twisted. When I started riding again, the chain would skip on the cassette every time through. I could ride, but every 5 seconds or so the drivetrain would skip. …but I could ride. The first and second place Masters riders were in that group, so I decided to keep riding.

Twisted like it's owner

I want to point out that there is nothing wrong with the SRAM XX drivetrain either on my Trek Superfly Elite hardtail that I was riding or my Trek Superfly 100 that I planned on riding the next day. This was my doing. I had rushed to build my two geared bikes just two days before I left for Cohutta. Clearly my hasty bike assembly left some room for error.

I caught the group but now was content to be able to match their pace. Motormile Paul was riding very strong, taking long turns at the front but after one long pull he pulled off and started dropping off.

Cohutta Masters Podium your's truly, Doug Andrews and Rob Herriman

I quickly got two bottles at aid3 and took off. There’s a few miles of climbing left then a long 5 mile down hill. Doug was ever present, either lurking just behind me or riding with me. We descended down to aid4. I kept going. I’m not sure if Doug stopped or not.

Between aid4 and aid5 there’s maybe 12 miles of pretty flat road section. Doug caught back up to me and we started taking turns pulling. Doug was convinced my skipping drivetrain was a freehub body that was slipping. I was doubtful since it was the chain-suck event that seemed to be the cause.  I wouldn’t know for sure until later.

I lost contact with Doug at aid5 where I stopped to get bottles.  Honestly, after 50 miles of drivetrain skipping, I wasn’t really in the game anymore.  I was reduced to survival mode.  I just wanted the race to be over.

I crossed the line at 7:36 just 3:41 behind Masters winner Doug Andrews from California.  Well done my friend… but bring your “A” game to Mohican.  I hope to be a bit more formidable a competitor for you there.

Churtle had eventually caught Amanda but Amanda had an inspired 2nd half and managed to slip away and hold on for the win. Churtle held onto 2nd ahead of Karen Potter. Great job my crazy friend!

After the presentation of awards, Lee, Churtle and I got in the car for the 600 mile drive to Michaux. We shared the driving with Lee taking the hardest shift from 1:30 to 4:30 am.  We crashed at Lee & Churtle’s house for an hour or so and had
some breakfast… Good as new and ready to go! …well not really, but we were committed to this crazy plan, so I trade my skipping drivetrain hardtail for my brand new never ridden Trek Superfly 100. I kept my fingers crossed for better luck with my bike.

Maximus Rocks! (photo Tomi McMillar)

Bang! The gun goes off for the final wave of a staged start for 40 miles of racing in Michaux State Forest.  We start out on primitive firewood. There are enough bumps that I’m immediately grateful for the 110mm of plushness offered by the Superfly 100’s rear end. As we get into single track, I’m even more impressed with the rear end’s ability to stay on the ground and hook up even in the sketchiest of terrain. I’m feeling tired but not awful. I ride behind a very fast Master’s guy who I don’t think I’ve ever beaten Jay Dodge and my old friend and Trek/VW teammate Tim Messersmith.

I’m really feeling more like just riding and not racing, so I start talking to Jay a bit. Eventually, both Jay and Tim slip away replaced by LSV Kelly riders Bernie Shaio and Chip Lortz both are on 29er hardtails, Bernie on a Superfly single speed. I have no idea what place I’m in and I don’t really care. The riding is awesome and I’m *super* impressed with how my Superfly 100 is handling the tough stuff. With a little bit of open trail, I feel like I can close gaps on the hardtails with ease despite my less-than-enthusiastic legs.

After awhile, I get a little gap on Bernie and Chip and catch up to Churtle who started two waves in front of us. No sooner had I gotten in front of Churtle when we came to a super fun and fairly technical ridge. Both Bernie and Churtle passed me on different features that I’d messed up. I’m rusty and I’m being schooled.

On that same ridge, during one of my many dismounts, I hear a bike bell, I move aside and my friend Nate Big Air Shearer comes riding by on a rigid fixie… yes, that’s right, a fixie! He rides over the feature I just dabbed and continues on. Awesome!

Just before the 2nd aid station I catch a glimpse of Tim about a minute ahead. Suddenly I’m motivated and I’m finally able to keep my heart-rate up past zone 1. I’ve got about half the race left to make a mark.

I blow through the 2nd aid station since I still have a full bottle. What I would realize later, was that Tim was stopped there. I catch Churtle who had caught woman’s leader and semi-retired ex-pro mountain biker Sue Haywood. They are chit-chatting and moving at a pretty leisurely pace. Cheryl seemed content to mark the woman’s favorite and make her move later. I can’t wait for that, so I keep going.

Michaux Awesomeness (photo Tomi McMillar)

I stop at aid3 and fill one bottle. Ten miles to go. With about six miles left it starts raining. Shortly after that I ride with and eventually pass Dan Bonora a.k.a. “Pickle” riding single speed. He looks pretty exasperated. With less than 2 miles to go, it’s raining so hard the last single track climb is actually a river. I’m in my easiest gear just trying to get some purchase on the sketchy technical stream bed. I catch and pass Bernie. He’s on single speed and it’s too steep and technical for riding. I have an insurmountable advantage. He lets me by and chases for a short while, but I ride away.

I cross the line at 5:08 which, minus the 8 minute penalty for starting in the last wave, is exactly 5 hours. This is good enough for 4th less than 1 minute behind Jay Dodge. Paul Wojciak from New York was the Masters winner with a time of 4:58. Scott Root was 2nd with 5:05. Bernie finished 5th 2 minutes behind me and Tim 6th 5 minutes behind him. Congratulations to all of you.

Churtle and Sue rode together right till the end having decided a sprint shootout for the finish was the best way to end it. Sue relied on some old but well oiled skills from her days as a pro to work over Churtle for the win. Great job you two. That was fun to see!

So despite the fatigue from the 100 miles the day before, the body stepped up and met the challenge of 40 hard miles in Michaux. Churtle and I both have dogs hunting in the NUE and Michaux Series. My Superfly 100 performed perfectly. It’s the most competent machine for riding the rough stuff I’ve ever been on… and I feel pretty good on the bike!

Can’t wait till next time.

100/40 Rock Stars (photo Tomi McMillar)


2 Responses to “Double Header”

  1. zoltanicus Says:

    Awesome awesome awesome.


  2. […] are doing what? Yes, I am and yes I did.  Luckily I wasn’t alone.  My friend Roger Masse from 29r crew joined in the insanity.  I just had my mind set on doing both events and it was a […]

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